Thursday, September 01, 2011

Things to like about Rick Perry for a criminal justice reformer

Since Dave Jennings didn't like my commentary on Rick Perry and the death penalty, let me identify some of the issues covered on this blog where Rick Perry got it right over the years:

2001: Signed bill requiring local law enforcement to gather racial profiling data, including information on stops and searches. Authority was later given to a state agency to gather them all and publish them online.

2001: Signed the Tulia legislation requiring corroboration for informants in undercover drug stings.

2001: Signed legislation creating Chapter 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that facilitated post-conviction DNA testing.

2001: Signed the Texas Fair Defense Act improving county indigent defense systems, establishing minimum qualifications for attorneys.

2001: Became the first governor to sign the DREAM Act allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state rates.

2003: Signed legislation mandating probation on the first offense for drug offenders caught with less than a gram of cocaine, heroin or other hard drugs - diverted 3,000 or more offenders from state jails annually.

2003: Issued pardons to 35 people convicted in the notorious "Tulia drug stings" and others from the Dallas fake drug scandal, contributing to a high water mark of 73 grants of clemency from Gov. Perry in 2003.

2005: Signed legislation to bring Tulia-style drug task forces under Department of Public Safety rules.

2005: Signed legislation establishing the Forensic Science Commission, requiring accreditation of state and local crime labs.

2006: De-funded dozens of regional narcotics task forces around the state, shifting federal block grant funds mostly to border security and diversion programming. Of the latter, a special emphasis was placed on drug courts and other specialty courts which grew in number from 7 to more than 70 statewide under Rick Perry, mostly launched with grant money from the governor's Criminal Justice Division.

2007: Signed widely praised, bipartisan probation reform legislation credited with abating the need for 17,000 new prison beds.

2007: Signed legislation allowing police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests for certain Class B and A misdemeanors, including marijuana possession.

2009: Signed the nation's most generous compensation package for exonerees: $80,000 per year incarcerated in a lump sum and a like amount distributed via a lifetime annuity.

2009: Signed into law a requirement for corroboration of jailhouse informants, presaging California's much-more publicized decision to do so this year.

2009: Vetoed legislation allowing seizure of children by CPS without notifying parents, a bill which was an overreaction to the fiasco surrounding the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup.

2010: Issued a posthumous pardon for Timothy Cole, who died in prison of an asthma attack after a false conviction later disproven by DNA.

2011: Signed legislation requiring local police departments to develop policies on eyewitness identification based on best practices; mandates promulgation of a (forthcoming) model policy on eyewitness IDs.

2011: Signed legislation limiting objections prosecutors could make to post-conviction DNA testing under Chapter 64.

2011: Signed a budget closing an adult prison unit for the first time in the state's history, as well as three youth prisons in a consolidation of state juvenile justice systems (probation, prison and parole) into a single new department, an effort growing out of bipartisan reforms.

That said, there are many counterexamples, notably on Fourth Amendment topics. Until his endorsement this summer of a bill to limit TSA groping and his veto of a texting-while-driving ban in June, Governor Perry had been notably hostile toward legislation to limit unnecessary searches and seizures - especially at traffic stops. In 2001, just months after Perry's ascension to Governor, the US Supreme Court ruled in Atwater v. Lago Vista that Texas law-enforcement officers could arrest people alleged to have committed only Class C misdemeanors, which are fine-only offenses for which jail time is not even a possible punishment. In response, that spring the Legislature approved legislation banning arrests for most Class C misdemeanors, but Gov. Perry vetoed it. The following session in 2003, a more moderate bill passed requiring police departments to have written policies on when their officers could arrest for Class C misdemeanors. Gov. Perry vetoed that bill, too. (Texas jails would be a lot less overcrowded today if he'd kept his pen in his pocket.)

Then in 2005, stinging from the Atwater vetoes, the legislature approved a bill to require departments to have written policies regarding when and how consent searches at traffic stops would be performed, a bill which the Governor also promptly vetoed. The following session, Perry's renewed veto threat kept a similar bill from even getting a hearing, though several dozen departments statewide enacted policies of their own accord.

There are plenty of other areas where I differ with the Governor: He vetoed an earlier round of probation reform in 2005 before supporting similar legislation in 2007. I consider most of his so-called "border security" pork to have been a big waste. And Perry's clemency record borders on pitiful. (Naturally, President Obama's isn't any better.)

And of course, Perry's appointment of John Bradley to chair the Forensic Science Commission was its own sordid, bizarre episode, and I do personally believe the Governor's intent was to stall and/or kill off the Todd Willingham arson investigation. (Otherwise, it should be mentioned, Perry's other appointments to the FSC have been exemplary.)

So I don't agree with Perry on every subject, by a longshot, and he's probably used the threat of the veto to scuttle as much good legislation as actually passed during his time in office. But Perry's record on criminal justice is more moderate and complex than his fire breathing pronouncements on the death penalty might lead one to expect. If you're reading this from another state, there's a good chance your Governor can't match Perry's record on criminal-justice reform.

UPDATE: Grits should have added at least two more reform bills bearing Perry's signature: Eliminating life sentences for juveniles (maxxing them out at 40 years) in 2009, and creating the option of life without parole in capital murder cases in 2005. There's no denying the latter change has caused the number of new death sentences to plunge to modern lows (eight in FY '10). AND MORE: A right-wing site points out that Perry also signed Texas "hate crimes" law into being in 2001. I'd forgotten about that one. (Note: I personally opposed the hate crimes legislation, just as I personally disliked the bill creating the life without parole option, but most people would put those bills in the "reform" category.)

RELATED: From Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune, "Willingham aside, executions under Perry raise questions."

24 comments:

Neon said...

My Governor can match and far exceed Perry's record on criminal-justice reform:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/illinois-death-penalty-ab_n_833250.html

With Texan ancestry and soon to be a resident voter, I'd say we should raise the bar of our expectations for Texas Governors...

Prison Doc said...

Well written summary. I'd only add in Perry's semi-defense that as a public official, his actions reflect the sentiments of the vast majority of Texans. Texas remains a "hang 'em high" state and it is not realistic to expect a "crusading governor" to go against that tide of opinion.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's one item, Neon, and it's certainly a big deal. OTOH, the death penalty isn't the whole justice system. On all these other issues, how does Quinn compare to Perry?

Prison Doc, Perry's never championed these issues, but he's mostly not stood in the way when the Legislature addressed them. That said, they'd have done more if he'd let them.

Anonymous said...

When will Governor Quinn of Illinois join his fellow former governors in a federal prison? Let's see the following Illinois governors have been convicted and sent to prison or are awaiting a cell block:
Otto Kerner, Jr.
Dan Walker
George H. Ryan
Rod Blagojevich.
Great state with great executives.
I suppose criminal justice reform is important in Illinois because the Governor may well be a guest in a state cell block or a federal lockup.

Neon said...

Anonymous 9/02/2011 08:23:00 AM:

I'm not knocking Texas specifically or lauding Illinois, but my guess is the anti-corruption efforts are just partially more effective in Illinois (not that they are great) and that Texas Governors would ALL be/have been in prison if truths were revealed, the law obeying the law meant something, and justice was served...

Taken as a single State, yep Illinois has a great Governor prison record; lined up with all the nation's Governors and all his true corruption Rick Perry would surely be in the top section of the charts...

In my limited knowledge on the subject I've never seen a Governor go to a state penitentiary, always federal; personally I think it would be nice if they had some potential skin in their own state's game, maybe then they would take the conditions of their state penal system more seriously... But sigh, criminals never think they will get caught, even those that lead states...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And as for Quinn's record, Neon, on all those other issues?

Kevin Stouwie said...

Outstanding post!!!!

What I can't tolerate is that Perry and his puppet masters are extremely hostile towards the average people who deserve to access the civil justice system when the need arises. However, as the post demonstrates, he gets things right sometimes too.

Neon said...

Scott, I couldn't tell you completely how Quinn compares to Perry, I'm kind of linear on the subject. First things first. Right now Perry is killing people sentenced to death including innocents; this is irreversible and he's obstructing justice. He's also killing perhaps over 100 people per year NOT sentenced to death by baking them to death literally in the up to 140 degree temperatures in the TDCJ. Rick Perry is clearly the biggest serial murderer alive... I don't think its time for a promotion or lists of his good qualities. Even a blind squirrel gets an acorn sooner or later... so what, the man is one of the most morally defective human beings in history...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ Neon: From a single issue, death-penalty only perspective, Perry is either the devil or a saint. And I admit most people, not just you, conflate the death penalty with the justice system generally. Look at the Texas Tribune site - in their issue headings the only criminal justice related tag is "Death Penalty." For some reason it's all anyone wants to talk or write about (though we've got 10-12 new death sentences per year in Texas and tens of thousands cycling in and out of prison). The MSM - especially the big papers in this state - have a particularly narrow focus on the subject, for reasons I've never understood. Similar to the Tribune's masthead, from their coverage you'd often think the death penalty was the only importat part of the justice system.

The point of this post was that, looking beyond the hot-button Culture War stuff like capital punishment, Perry's record on criminal-justice reform in other areas hasn't been as caricatured, unprincipled or one-dimensional as your comments portray. Indeed, what's often missed is that the death penalty demagoguery provides Perry and other Texas pols cover for more pragmatic, reform-minded stances on other issues, like those described above. Here's where we differ: You think Perry can't be decent on criminal justice because his death-penalty stance makes him inherently an evil person. I think Perry's desth-penalty stance is what ALLOWS him to take the more moderate positions described above without fear of anyone calling him "soft on crime."

Anonymous said...

Putting the death penalty aside, Perry's handling of the forensic science commission debacle shows he lacks integrity. We should expect a higher level of integrity from our governors and our presidents.

Neon said...

Scott, some thoughts to digest, thanks!

Actually as much as I think the death penalty is wrong and error-prone what really affects my family, friends, and I are the real deaths and risk of deaths to the non-death sentenced. I find it completely perverted that few give a hoot that even minor felons are dying literally in greater numbers than death penalty cases...

It's really difficult for me to digest anyone complaining about the Constitution one way or the other or yea what a good progressing society we are reforming the justice system with this massive and clear violation going on. Perhaps 1000 black sheep dead over 10 years that people and even worse "leaders" shrug off without 5 seconds thought... Oh well they drove drunk a few times, missed their parole appointment, or whatever, they deserve it...

Fortunately(?) the information documenting such crime is not available and no one cares to force it into the open... In my "crazy" morality this qualifies as an emergency room type need. ~1000 "invisible" deaths over 10 years needs to be brought into the discussion.

Hopefully a truly great and skilled hero will get a sense of priority and address it someday...

Anonymous said...

No one discusses or few care that we are locking up and throwing away the key to thousands of inmates. Scott is right when he says we focus on the death penalty to the detriment of the entire justice system, to the enhancement of penalties and the star chamber we call the Parole Board. These men and women are the forgotten (which is apparently how Texans want it). This attitude also extends to the treatment inside the prisons from the food to the many shakedowns, to the heat to the comments of the "keepers". They typically use words such as "scum", "pervert" and are treated as sub human in too many cases by too many correctional officers who get off on power and control. Sadly they see themselves as keeping order and the oldtimers regret bitterly the Ruiz decisions.
Does anyone care?

Anonymous said...

Yes, definitely some commendables in the area of criminal justice reform for the Texas Governor.

...2003: Signed legislation mandating probation on the first offense for drug offenders caught with less than a gram of cocaine, heroin or other hard drugs - diverted 3,000 or more offenders from state jails annually.

This is an example of a good attempt. Signed the bill into law just does not have the teeth to enforce compliance. Prosecutors contiue to ram the prisons full of first time substance abuse offenders. If all of the reform legislation had an enforcement element the results and savings would be incredible.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:14 you just described Plane State, Henley, Woodman, Lane Murray, Hobby, Mountain View and the Crain. These women prisons are worst than any third world country has to offer. I have witness for over ten years the workers in these units treat these women worst than animals. These Wardens are no better than the people they keep. If the truth ever comes out they will be sitting in a Federal Prison.

Anonymous said...

I have just discussed all the prisons...men and women. I am not a "hug a thug" by any means but I believe there should be real efforts to rehabilitate. The programs that are offered were good, but we've just cut the Wyndham School district. However, all the rehabilitation goes for naught if we don't parole people who have been in prison for years and years. A person can change but not the nature of the crime. That seems to be the 3 second review of one's records by the parole board. The whole thing is rotten from entry to release.
Sorry from digressing from the topic- Perry's fine record regarding criminal justice.

rodsmith said...

my only problem with rick perry and the others of his stripe....they are still breathing!

you would think as two-faced and hypcocritial as they are whatever god is out ther would STRIKE THEM DEAD!

Sandy said...

Grits, I think you've been hacked or spammed. Sakset.s has commented on the design and thanked you for sharing in each of the three posts I looked at this AM. Each post uses the same words, no deviations whatsoever, and the comment is pretty much irrelevant to the post. Makes me think a comment robot / autoresponder is using you to establish links to a website you'd probably rather not link to.

My two cents.

Hooman Hedayati said...

It must be remembered that all of the bills that he signed had been passed by a Republican Legislature. Also, he threatened to veto many bills that were pulled from consideration, including the Law of Parties bill which would have prevented the execution of those who killed no one.

Anonymous said...

One good thing about him - while pretending not to, he supports keeping the border open.

Gadfly said...

Scott, IMO, the only reason Perry signed the DREAM Act and isn't all harsh on illegal immigration in general is that No. 1 donor Bob Perry and homebuilder pals want/"need" even more of that cheap illegal immigrant labor to do jobs that, contra tomato picking, etc., many American citizens actually would do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Gadfly, do you really think the kids attending college will be the ones working for Bob Perry? If that were the driving motivator, why wouldn't they want those kids to remain poor and ignorant to fill those low-wage jobs you're talking about?

diogenes said...

So the DREAM act is good criminal justice legislation? Because it rewards people for breaking the law, even if it is indirectly? Strike that off the list, and I could go with the rest.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Diogenes, the DREAM Act doesn't reward people for breaking the law, it distinguishes between children's culpability and their parents' crimes. Big difference.

Sentence reform said...

Maybe he can help the federal system out. Our government spends millions every year to keep first time non-violent offenders in prison for years and life! How is it rapist and child molesters get probation or time served, while drug offenders get mandatory minimum sentences of 5, 10, 20years, and life! Thats why I have started this petition to help one inmate who has 14 plus years into his life sentence and was only 21 years old when he was given life without the possibility of parole. At his sentencing, the judge said his hands were tied by the laws laid down by congress, and had no choice but to give him life. Jason Hernandez will die in a federal prison, while we pay the bill. Join in and sign the petition to help a young man have a chance to see the free world again.
https://www.change.org/petitions/the-president-of-the-united-states-commute-the-sentence-of-jason-hernandez click or google this site to help a young man come home to his family.
The President of the United States: commute the sentence of Jason Hernandez
www.change.org